In the province of Ontario, there have long been two systems of property registration: the Registry System and The Land Titles System. However, for decades now, the province has been working towards merging these two into a single system of land registration called the land titles systems

Land registration is intended to provide a uniform system under which documents (or instruments) can be registered that establish or transfer interests in a particular portion of land. And as these two registration systems start to merge, they will have effects on property owners. 

What do these land registration systems mean for you, your property, or a property you wish to purchase? To clarify the process of title claims and registrations, we’ve provided this brief explanation of the Ontario Land Titles Act and the Registry Act.

What is the Land Registry in Ontario?

The Registry Act was the earliest land registration system in the province and sought to establish and maintain a clear system of documentation regarding land claims and transfers. 

The Land Registry in Ontario is a document depository system where lawyers have provided a title opinion after performing a manual 40-year search of property titles related to that piece of property. The land registry system produces an inventory of instruments affecting title to land and establishes the deed as the primary evidence of title.

When you perform a title search, you are searching the uniform system of the land registry. The title search will therefore disclose the ownership of the land and the restrictions and obligations that affect its use. 

What is the Land Title Act in Ontario?

The Ontario Registry Act created the registry system and came into effect in 1795. It was the sole land registry system until the Land Titles Act came into effect in 1885. In the 1990s, the Ontario government began to phase out the registry system and convert all registrations to land titles.

The Land Title Act guarantees title arrangements and protects against things like claims of adverse possession. 

According to the province of Ontario, “In the Ontario Land Titles System, the Ontario government guarantees that title (ownership and encumbrances) to each parcel of real property registered in the system is as shown on the parcel register for that parcel, subject to certain qualifications set out in the legislation.”

In its basic form, we interact with the Land Title Act every time we purchase a property or piece of land in the province of Ontario. And, the improved land titles system makes it easier to understand claims on that land. 

Most real properties in Ontario are registered in the (updated) provincial Torrens-based land titles system of land registration under the Land Titles Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. L.5 (the Ontario Land Titles System). 

Province of Ontario Land Registration Information System (POLARIS)

In the 1990s, the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services started to build the Province of Ontario Land Registration Information System (POLARIS) to facilitate the automation of the land registration system. POLARIS is essentially electronic property registration, and with this introduction, Ontario was the first jurisdiction in the world to allow the electronic registration of land-related documents. 

Before the conversions began, the government of Ontario ‘parcelized’ every plot of land that appeared to be a “lot of record.” This parcelization was carried out using GPS and plotted on Property Index Maps where each parcel was assigned a Property Identifier Number (PIN) that consisted of a larger neighbourhood block number and an individualized parcel number. 

From there, a computerized Parcel Register was created for each PIN. 

Properties in the land titles system are classified under different types of parcels and are granted rights or protections. The parcel system understands ownership once records are converted from the registry system to the land titles system. The essential differences between the parcels, for classification purposes, determine the qualifications to the government’s guarantee of title for that type of parcel.

Before a parcel is converted from the registry system to the titles system, the property title is classified under the Parcelized Day Forward (PDFR) Registry Act land registry system. 

In this instance, while a parcel of land may have a Parcel Register created, all that is indicated is the PIN assigned to the property, its thumbnail legal description, and the particulars of the last registered deed prior to the creation of the Parcel Register. 

Before the parcel registry and POLARIS were created, lawyers had to go into the computerized Parcel Register for basic title information, and then they had to perform a 40 year search of the paper-based Registry Act abstract books. These abstracts provide a list of all the registered documents affecting the land from the time the Crown Patent was issued, forward. 

Needless to say, this search was both tedious and time-consuming. Fortunately, entries into the Registry Act abstract books stopped once the PDFR was created as all subsequent document registrations were included in the Parcel Register. 

Land Title System vs Land Registry

Naturally, the overlap of these two systems can become quite confusing. If you’re not a lawyer, then you don’t need to understand the ins and outs of the new systems. But, having a basic understanding of the changes will help. 

The primary difference between the Land Title System in Ontario and the Land Registry is that the title system is an electronic record and the land registry is a historical paper record. However, the Registry Act allows for claims of adverse possession and for holding property in trust for another person while the Land Titles Act does not.

Under the Registry System, deeds were the proof of title. Under the Land Registry, evidence of title is the Parcel Registry that has been created for that PIN. The Parcel Register establishes the PIN, the registered owner(s), the thumbnail legal description of the property, all easements to which the property benefits or is subject as well as all encumbrances, cautions, or notices that affect the title.

While the Land Registry system governed most of the province, deeds and registrations have been converted to the Land Title System over the past 20 years. 

Compared to the registry, the land title system has tighter rules around the documents and format that must be used to register land titles to protect against fraud or other malicious activities. This is important because it guarantees that land purchases are valid and recognized within the eyes of Ontario and federal law and that the property purchaser understands any claims against the property. 

With the wide adoption of the Land Title Act, title transfers become easier and more systematized. Title searches do not need to go back 40 years (like they did in the registry system). Anything earlier than the current owner is protected under the Land Titles System. 

Ontario Land Title System

Under the Ontario Land Title system, the government of Ontario guarantees that the title, including ownership and encumbrances, to each parcel of real property registered within the system is displayed on the parcel register for that parcel and is subject to the appropriate qualifications. 

Within this updated system, you can search for your parcel on the Ontario Land Titles Parcel Registry and get up-to-date information about that property. These don’t count as property title searches but can determine the most accurate, complete, and current registered data related to a particular property. 

When a charge, transfer, discharge, or other document, affects a particular property, it is registered and entered into POLARIS (the Province of Ontario Land Registration System) and appears on the applicable Parcel Register.

When in the land titles system, property can be classified under three types: 

  • Land Titles Absolute
  • Land Titles Conversion
  • Land Titles Conversion Plus

The basic understandings between these three are as follows:

  • Land titles absolute represent perfect titles and outright ownership and were declared either after the conversion from the registry system to the land title system or were already registered on the Ontario Land Titles System before the conversion process. 
  • Land titles conversion and conversion plus were titles registered in the registry before the land titles system conversion and then converted over. Most LT conversion estate/qualifiers will want to consider upgrading to plus to get the benefits they deserve.

Here’s a more detailed overview: 

Land Titles Absolute

For a Land Titles Absolute property, the Estate/Qualifier on the parcel register will say “Fee Simple Absolute.” This qualifier means that the property was: 

  • Originally registered under the Ontario Land Titles System before administrative conversion from the registry.
  • Upgraded from the Registry Act R.S.O 1990, c. R.20 to the Land Titles Act by way of First Application. 
  • These properties do not typically have qualifications stated on the parcel registers. Instead, it is implicitly understood that section 44(1) of the Land Titles Act is applicable. 

So what does this mean? 

Absolute titles are also known as perfect titles and they mean that the property is free of any encumbrances or deficiencies. An absolute title gives an unequivocal right of ownership to the owner, and cannot be disputed or challenged by anyone else. 

Holders of absolute titles are the full owners of the property and have never been registered to the registry.

Land Titles Conversion Qualified

For real property that is displayed on the parcel register as Land Titles Conversion Qualified (LTCQ) or LT conversions, the Estate/Qualifier on the parcel register will say “Fee Simple LT Conversion Qualified.” 

LT conversions were originally on the registry act and can upgrade to LT Absolute Plus.

  • This qualifier means that the real property was originally registered under the Registry Act  R.S.O. 1990, c. R.20 and then administratively converted by the government to registration under the Ontario Land Titles System. 
  • A small portion of Registry Act properties that were not administratively converted have since been upgraded to LTCQ by application of the owner. 

All Land Titles Conversion Qualified parcels will be applied to the original persons entitled to the land through ownership or lease will be applied within the land titles registry system. Land Titles Conversion Qualified parcels may have supplemental qualifications indicated on the parcel register, including: 

  • Subject to spousal interests in [instrument number(s)]
  • Subject to the rights of the owner(s) of adjoining parcels, if any, under [instrument number(s)]
  • Subject to debts and beneficial interests

Simply put, these properties were originally registered in the time before the land titles systems conversion process started.

Land Titles Absolute Plus

For real property that is displayed on the parcel register as Land Titles Absolute Plus, the Estate/Qualifier on the parcel register will say “Fee Simple LT Absolute Plus.” 

This means that the title to the real property was upgraded from LTCQ to Land Titles Absolute by application of the owner. The Plus designation was created because the benefits of conversion to LTCQ would not otherwise be available in a simple Land Titles Absolute designation. In other words, this designation is for those properties already registered prior to conversion but who need to be otherwise perfect titles.

Without this designation, any owner upgrading their property registration from Land Titles Conversion Qualified to Land Titles Absolute, would lose the special benefits associated with LTCQ titles like, “free, up to the date of conversion, from escheats, Planning Act violations, succession duties, dower, etc.”

If your property was converted from the registry system, then you’ll likely eventually upgrade to the land titles absolute plus. 

Final Thoughts on Land Registry and Land Title Systems in Ontario

The vast majority of properties in Ontario are registered under the Land Titles Act allowing for simpler title searches, faster title opinions, and a better understanding of the conditions that impact a property’s title. 

While you may think your property, or your desired property, has a straightforward title history, it is a good idea to seek legal advice from a firm with a background in real estate matters. Why leave anything to chance when there are experts just waiting to help?

Contact RBHF Professional Corporation today for help with mutual wills and real estate transactions

Categories: Real Estate Lawyer